I fell in love with reading when a high school English teacher required us to read The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. It is more than a thousand pages of love, betrayal, prison, escape, murder, and above all revenge or justice. Revenge and justice can look remarkably similar. But as a high schooler, I was definitely drawn-in by the revenge angle more than the justice.
The book centers on Edmond Dantes, who is the central character. The entire plot is driven by what happens to him and what he does. Every single page is about Edmond Dantes (the Penguin Classics edition on Amazon is more than 1,200 pages).
It was written nearly two hundred years ago, so I do not feel too bad if I spoil some of the plot here, but I will avoid giving away any more than I must. Edmond Dantes was wronged, multiple times and in multiple ways. As a result, he bears the burden of trying to make things right. He alone bears the burden because no one else is in a position to restore order. So, he orchestrates a big picture plan to bring about the maximum amount of justice and he patiently executes each phase of this plan. The entire story revolves around Edmond Dantes, every single page.
But here is the thing about reading The Count of Monte Cristo: You can go dozens and even hundreds of pages without seeing or hearing from Edmond Dantes. It is a big book. It is set in lots of locations, with lots of characters and subplots. And there are giant sections of the book where the name “Edmond Dantes” is nowhere to be found. But even those paragraphs, pages, and chapters in which Dantes is not mentioned, even those parts are all about Edmond Dantes and his plan to bring about justice.
Sometimes you see him, sometimes you do not. He might not be speaking. People might not even know his name or his story. The character you are reading about might never have even heard of his existence. As a reader, there are times when you have no idea what he is doing. In fact, he might be acting through an agent or under an alias, but it is all about Edmond Dantes and what he is doing every step of the way. Once you realize this fact, that is when the story comes alive!
We see these very themes in John 20. The disciples see Jesus, but then they do not. But then they do. What we see over these eight days beginning on Easter is just what Jesus said would happen. Jesus confused His listeners earlier in John 7:32-36 and in John 8:21-30 when He told them about the nature of His presence with them, and His hiddenness. Sometimes you see Him, sometimes you do not.
Though John was referring explicitly to his own gospel account of Jesus’ life, his words in 20:31 are true of all of Scripture: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” It is all about Jesus.
It is all about Jesus.
It is interesting to me how The Count of Monte Cristo was originally published as a serial in eighteen parts over the span of a few years, though today readers hold the whole narrative in a single volume.
We hold the fullness of God’s inspired revelation in a single volume, even though it was released serially over many hundreds of years. And when we read the narrative, we do not always see the central protagonist. You can go dozens and even hundreds of pages without seeing or hearing the name “Jesus” or His title of “Christ.”
Sometimes you see Him, sometimes you do not. He might not be speaking. People might not even know His name or His story. The person you are interacting with might never have even heard of His existence. There are times when you have no idea what He is doing. In fact, He might be acting through an agent or under an alias, but it is all about Jesus the Christ, every single moment. Once you realize this fact, that is when the story comes alive!
We do not journey with the Emmaus travelers in Series C (though we should meet them next year with Series A), but Luke 24:27 is a great complement to John 20:31: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” In both of these post-Easter encounters, the Evangelists highlight how Jesus is the center of the story, even when we do not see Him.
Our hearers today (and we as preachers) continue to live in this very same truth. Human history, as recorded in Scripture and lived out today in real time, is full of thousands of pages of love, betrayal, prison, escape, murder, revenge, and justice. Some of these are the ugly consequences of sin. But despite how broken it has been, is, and may become, God alone bears the burden of restoring order and executing justice. And God brings all of this to completion in Jesus, “Who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).
Whether we see Him as clearly as the disciples did on the evening of the first Easter, or whether He is hidden from our sight as He was from theirs for the following seven days, we have the Word. And there, on every page, in every theme, in every major character and every major plot twist, we are invited to see God’s unfolding work to make all things new and whole in Jesus.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 20:19-31.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 20:19-31.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Walter A Maier III of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 20:19-31.
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